Five Isle of Wight libraries due to close yesterday will stay open for at least another month to allow time to train volunteers, it has been announced.
The Isle of Wight Council planned to close five of its 11 libraries—in Bembridge, Brighstone, East Cowes, Niton and Shanklin—on 30th June as part of a cost-saving programme, but has now agreed to maintain funding until at least 31st July.
The Friends of Isle of Wight Library Service said the extension would give the group’s legal team longer to fight the closures.
The council is recommending the extension under a delegated decision by Barry Abraham, the cabinet member responsible for libraries, with the decision due to be confirmed next week.
The council said it is carrying out negotiations with residents’ groups about running "community libraries" and added that if the discussions were not finalised by the 31st July deadline "it may be possible to continue council funding for another limited period—but not beyond the end of September".
It said the extension of funding—which would cost the council £31,000 until the end of September—would also give community library groups the chance to "shadow" existing library staff in the interim.
The council's cabinet member responsible for libraries, Councillor Barry Abraham, said: "Positive negotiations are taking place with the five groups seeking to run community libraries, and it would be inappropriate to cease funding for these libraries at this critical time.
"A great deal of work has been undertaken by these groups in the three months since the March decision on our library service, and their co-operation with council officers has been a major factor in progress to date.
"The council is committed to supporting community groups to succeed in developing their own library services."
Dave Quigley, spokesperson for The Friends of Isle of Wight Library Service, said: "The only campaign use for it is it gives our legal team another month but in actual fact I believe it will be three months.
"I have been told by a library staff member that his views are only one of the volunteer groups is anywhere near ready to take on the running of the libraries and the others do not have a hope—they need many months more to get up to speed."
The Isle of Wight's proposed judicial review claim argues that the "vague and speculative proposals" for libraries to be run by local communities "fail to ensure that a comprehensive and efficient library service will remain on the island" as the 1964 Act requires, and claims that the council has failed to act in accordance with its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.